Agile + Cake

In January the first hints come about although it's far too early to fully comprehend.

"Why yes, there have been several minor quibbles lately that our Hyperserver team is underweight. These were pretty much jokes at the time, but I have to concede that this team really doesn't eat much. I'm not talking about lunch. I'm talking about meeting attendance. It's down. In fact, there are several people who should have been here for this meeting this morning who didn't bother to get out of bed. Two others who were supposed to turn up for yesterday's monthly close-out meeting didn't go to that meeting but instead attended a different meeting held by an entirely different team at the other end of the site working on an entirely different product. That meeting was an intensive two-hour international client bid which required detailed input from every party present. Those guys worked for half a day on a product with which they have nothing to do just so they justify their presence at that meeting.

"And the reason, as we all know, is because of the high quality of cakes that that project's client's customer liaison brings to those meetings. Well, it's gone too far. We're the last team in MNC to make this decision. There's going to be a rota. There's going to be cakes at this daily meeting. Who wants to go first?"

There's an uneasy Western-style silence and then someone puts a word forward. "I'll bring some tomorrow."

"Great. Now. To business."


In February revenues are up. "We're calling this the Agile Plus Cake development model," claims the Hyperserver department manager. "You see, there are real and valid project benefits. Bringing in cake binds the social fabric together more tightly. It adds a thin layer of non-critical responsibility."

"Boo!" shouts the department, in between bites of cake. There had to be cake at the meeting. The good stuff, and plenty of it. Some people were sat there drumming their fingers half an hour early.

"Okay, okay. Just call it responsibility, then? Wow. And it improves meeting attendance. It... drastically improves meeting attendance. I mean, I don't know who half of you people are. Who are you? What department are you from?"

"We all work in ASB up in F Block."

"I've never heard of ASB."

"Well, yeah. We had a gap in our cake-- I mean, meeting schedule."

"Okay. And you?"

"I came up from MNC Glasgow for a client meeting. Mmff."

"With who?"

"I, uh." Shrugs. Shakes head.

"And... uh, to the next slide, and we can see here the visible improvement in all our productivity metrics since cake at meetings became mandatory. And it I'm told by sales that it makes our client discussions... uh, productive, also. We're certainly selling a whole lot of software! It's a good thing too. We're going to need the extra cash to visit the baker's! Ha ha ha. Ahem. So, this is working. Tentatively. It's leading to growth. In our business plan and in our department's... ahem. Waists. I mean, status. I mean, weights. So give yourselves a round of applause and let's go out there and nail next month's ship targets."


Ship targets?

In March there are some sporting events happening. There's a slanty playing field not far from the site and there's some rugby going on. The most charitable way to describe it would be... "slow motion". The collisions between players resemble a game of billiards more than a brutal contact sport. There's a grab for the ball, someone fumbles the catch, it rolls, and people dive on top of it. Time passes, and eventually play has to be stopped while players are rolled off the pile one at a time.

"It's not that our department is putting up a bad fight," explains the EUOO department head. "It's that all of them are. I mean, uniformly. This is a shambles. I'm glad our software isn't as bad as our rugby. Ooh. Is anybody else hungry?"

The Hyperserver department head looks over at the EUOO department head and can't help but notice that he is, in fact, already eating a box of jam doughnuts, so frosty with powdered sugar as to be snowing. "Well," he remarks in reply. "It's not like you need to be in great shape to write good code. Or sit at a computer. Even though that is admittedly about one-fifth of the whole job. I can't honestly see how we're still managing such incredible productivity levels. You see this-- oh, okay, pass them over."

A thin yellow cardboard box with a cellophane window drifts over the playing field. Turning towards the wind, EUOO and Hyperserver sight a small drift of cake wrappers, boxes, pie tins, cakecups from cupcakes and used napkins rolling in from the west.


"I, um. Okay. Well, this... th-this is now the edict from on high. This is how MNC is going to operate, not just here on the site and not just in our software development arm. Erm. This extends as far as MNC Research and Development in Switzerland and Germany and to our hardware teams in Delaware and also the branch offices in Ottawa, Washington, Lansing, uh, Brazil, the Philippines, Darwin and Melbourne, Wellington, Osaka and... Hey. Hey. Guys. Please stop eating for a minute. I can't hear myself speak over--"

Somebody's watch beeps. "STS division community meeting starts in A Block in two minutes."

"Then... then I'll hurry up. Erm. Well, it's now MNC Global policy to bring cakes. Confections. Or chocolate desserts. To every meeting, however minor. For every person, not just a designated cake-bringer, everybody must bring cake. Also, it is now mandatory for every employee of MNC to attend at least two meetings per day, preferably four or more. Or this will be taken as poor performance and reflect badly on your end-of-year review. And you must eat cake at every meeting. And you must have cake at your desk. We'll be giving over offices J18 through to J109 to baking facilities starting from next week if you need to use them. And you will. And this includes client meetings. And it includes clients. Clients must bring, and eat, cake, if they want to do business with MNC. Guys, guys. Please don't get up and leave while I'm talking. I still don't understand how you can be standing here and simultaneously committing code. Half of you haven't been home in three weeks. It's been three days since I did! Don't leave me!"

There's a bustle and the room empties. The time taken is shorter than any fire alarm drill evacuation. And the place is picked clean of confectionery.

"I just want a chat without a mouthful," says the mournful department head, to nobody. "I don't even like chocolate mini rolls. I want a banana!"


Inexplicably, revenues are through the roof for the month of April. "What. I don't even. What."

But the numbers are coming down from On High, from increasingly rotund Branch Managers and District Managers and National Unit Managers with crumbs on their shirts. And the CEO has this wild-eyed look in his eyes - when they're visible around the literal bucket of unwrapped miniature chocolate bars - like a religious conversion. "A confection-based project development methodology is consistent with MNC's business interests! Sugar is laboratory-proven to enhance concentration, leading to greater innovation and higher output per unit time and a voluntary commitment to more time spent in the office-- simply due to inactivity. New MNC Research neural connectors will enable our Business Software employees and all others, including customer-facing roles, to interact with computers without the slightest lift of a finger. This is a proven concept. It was MNC's concept and has caught on like wildfire among competitors and customers alike. And, most recently, a huge and influential endorsement from several international military and political organisations! The concept is sound. Eat more shortbread. Share it with your friends and colleagues. It's within our Business Conduct Guidelines. Consume carrot cake and lemon slices."

The Hyperserver department manager is the last thin man in a world consumed by red-eyed raving madmen. He's still getting paid, which makes him feel a certain obligation to visit the building and make a token effort to do his job.

Even though this involves wading through truly unsanitary waterfalls of discarded rubbish. There should be rats, but they're bloated and fat and immobile too. The fluorescent lighting is on the blink but the service staff are all missing, presumed whatever. The machines are still running and there's still a surprising number of people sat in their seats in front of their screens.

"Didn't you book a holiday for this week?" he asks one nearby intern. He gets no response, not even a blink or a glance. The intern reaches out and stuffs a white chocolate and raspberry cookie into his mouth, whole. Where is this stuff even coming from? Who is delivering it? How?

He boots up the latest Hyperserver build. It installs with the fuss of a feather coming to rest, and runs like the wind, at enterprise speeds, merely on his off-the-shelf desktop machine, with one failing core at that. "I feel like this company is going in a different direction from what it was when I signed up. I dislike the changes to our business model. It's just not a friendly place to work anymore. I feel like MNC cares more about Cake than about its employees." He says all of this to himself. He would have difficulty getting anybody's attention for long enough to resign while they were watching. So he just leaves a note, and leaves the key to his office in the lock.


Nobody ever quite figures out in time what's up with MNC, for reasons which are too delicate and complicated to even withstand careful scrutiny. It's a bizarre old corporation with severely strange business practices, but on the other hand, if you're ready to spend an entire long weekend eating cake with them, their machinery (real and virtual) is world-class and comes with a free fairy cake. One of the most delicious you'll ever eat. One you'll buy more of their stuff just to enjoy again. It would be a true world-domination strategy, if the world hadn't already been dominated for ten years by Microsoft's monumental, indimidating pie-based offerings. Or Google's eye-wateringly divine cheese-and-biscuits business model, so innovative and game-changing that it got mentioned in Time. Or Oracle, which fries everything they serve (eggs, bacon, waffles, cheese, chicken, chips) and smells so good at the negotiation table, oh, you'd die for some of that.

"I've got a better idea," says the former Hyperserver manager to himself, driving home. "I think there's a gap in the market. I think there's a better way."

When he gets home he wipes clean his white board and titles it: "Balanced Diet Business Concept".

Discussion (15)

2010-11-25 22:33:52 by qntm:

1820 words. Running total is 47737 words. 6070 words ahead of schedule. I don't even know about this one. I had this idea that the Agile software development methodology (which we use at work) could be measurably enhanced if it had "somebody has to bring cake to every meeting" explicitly codified into it. I was going to write a factual essay on this topic. Then, for some reason, I wrote "Agile + Cake" in my big list of story ideas for this month, and left it there for 25 days, wondering why I had put this factual essay concept on a list of fiction suggestions. So, uh, this is the direction it went in. Once again. First draft. No edits. I haven't even corrected the spelling on this one yet. Tomorrow: probably Daleks?

2010-11-25 23:55:13 by Chell:

The cake is a lie.

2010-11-26 01:20:11 by GLaDOS:

Cake--and grief counseling--will be offered at the conclusion of the test.

2010-11-26 05:02:36 by Snowyowl:

Are we going to go through that every time someone mentions cake on the Internet? (Rhetorical question. I already know that the answer is yes.) Back on-topic, this is one of the strangest ideas for world domination I've seen yet. And it almost seems feasible, too. It might even work.

2010-11-26 05:58:37 by YarKramer:

This is incredibly silly! And I wanna know how the factual-document goes ... ;)

2010-11-26 08:15:50 by Grunt:

Interesting. But I'm very disappointed that we never find out where the cake was coming from. I'd have given you double bonus points if you had worked a Marie Antoinette reference in there someplace. :)

2010-11-26 08:37:00 by qntm:

The short answer is "microscopic flour-like parasitic aliens". But I felt that being explicit would dispel the magic a little.

2010-11-26 09:44:10 by Snowyowl:

Aliens? I thought they were just very, very good cakes. The rest of the story doesn't suggest a sci-fi theme.

2010-11-26 10:16:42 by qntm:

The world being taken over by cake-parasites doesn't seem like sci-fi to you? What would you call it?

2010-11-26 16:57:24 by Mike:

It seems like a relatively happy ending. It's happy. ...right?

2010-11-26 17:42:42 by Dirkjan:

Wait, so this wasn't a metaphor about some methodology that works out great in the short term but fails horribly in the long term?

2010-11-27 13:59:32 by Col:

If the bacon was a cry for help, this is a sign of a mind stretched beyond breaking point. Keep it up, that man!

2010-11-28 19:29:34 by Thomas:

This is definitely one of the stories I most enjoyed this month.

2010-11-29 17:23:33 by JoetheRat:

Good stuff as usual. The cake, I mean. The writing's good too. I actually want to commend you for *not* going with the Obvious Meme as punchline, or 'passing mention', or 'offhand unrelated remark by a background character for the sake of having used it.' It may have been intentional, or you may simply not be wired that way. Either way, good on you. Almost done.

2017-11-13 17:33:22 by Tahrey:

Given how any meeting I've ever been in has gone, graphed against the provision of food, particularly Stuff You Really Shouldn't Eat, this is THE BEST IDEA.

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